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Panera: Speak Chipotle, Say Less Than McDonald's

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I want to start by saying that I really like Panera Bread Company (PNRA - Get Report). I like its food, its management team (lead by founder and CEO Ron Shaich) and its restaurant atmosphere.

With that being said, the fast-casual diner is not growing quite as quickly as many of us shareholders have hoped, despite the stock rallying in recent weeks, it's up about $12 from the first of the year. In its most recent quarter, Panera barely beat earnings per share estimates, slightly missed revenue estimates and guided below the Street's consensus for next quarter's EPS estimates. 

One of the company's main issues has to do with throughput during peak hours. In other words, Panera is struggling to handle its large customer flow during its busiest hours. 

Among other things, (such as drive-throughs in select locations and better, faster cooking equipment), could the throughput issue simply be solved by using a different menu? 

Before we delve deeper into this conversation, take a look at what TheStreet's Jim Cramer, co-manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, had to say about the company and its management: 

Must Read: Some People Are Freaked Out About Starbucks Serving Alcohol

Throughput is an issue here. During the company's most recent earnings call, Roger Matthews, executive vice president and CFO of Panera, discussed the changes the company is making to the menu. He said, "the intention of our new menu structure is to make it easier for guests to understand our product offerings... and offer greater visibility to the range of price points."

A little later, Mathews also mentions that this easier-to-read menu could help with the throughput issue. (To listen to conference call, the dial-in phone number is available, here). Obviously management has noticed the menu issue and admits it could be responsible for slowing things down. 

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